Whittier Parents vs. CPS

By: Ashmar Mandou

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - Local News

Parents of Whittier Elementary School met with Chicago Public School CEO Jean-Claude Brizard on Tuesday afternoon to ask for a stop in demolishing Whittier’s field house, which Pilsen residents named La Casita. And instead renovate the space into a library.

Parents went head-to-head with Chicago Public School Chief Jean Claude Brizard on Tuesday afternoon to ask for an injunction on the demolition of La Casita, a field house used by Whittier Elementary students in Pilsen.
“This has turned into a bitter battle between parents and CPS. It is frustrating to see concerned parents being shut down by CPS officials,” said Carolina Gaete, co-director of Blocks Together and member of Whittier Parents Committee (WPC). “JC [Jean-Claude] Brizard along with the rest of the Chicago Board of Education should do the right thing and place students first before money.”

Gaete is just one of hundreds of parents who support a plan to convert part of La Casita field house into a library, a project deemed by CPS officials as too expensive. Instead, CPS officials proposed a plan to place the library in the main building of Whittier Elementary School, which Gaete states would hamper with resources for special need students. “They’re plan is to take out existing classrooms for special needs students and place the library on the second floor of the building. Another concern we have is will it be accessible for students with physical disabilities?” said Gaete.

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - Local NewsThe escalating contention between WPC and CPS has been an ongoing one. Last fall, over 40 parents staged a 36-day sit-in to cease CPS officials from demolishing La Casita, which then CPS CEO Ron Huberman obliged. “We worked with State Senator Tony Muñoz and State Representative Edward Acevedo to lobby for TIF money and raised enough to help in the renovation of the field house. We presented this idea to Huberman; we even collaborated with architects to create an environmentally conscious space, we went above and beyond to show the importance of creating a space that will provide many after school programs for students…and now we are struggling to keep that plan intact with the current CPS administration,” said Gaete. Neither Muñoz nor Acevedo were available for comment.

Last Friday several dozen protesters circled Whittier Elementary School which forced a delay in the project. Shortly after, WPC received a letter from Brizard stating that CPS must move forward with its plans. “We are told by CPS officials that they want more parent involvement. That they want dialogue, but the minute we express our concerns they ignore us,” said Evelin Santos, member of WPC. “But our fight will go on and we will do all we can so that CPS officials do not demolish La Casita and keep special need education unharmed.”

According to Gaete and Santos, one parent was told by a CPS official during Tuesday’s meeting to search for another school after she voiced her concern over whether or not Whittier would still provide accessibility for her special needs son. “Parents were shocked when they heard that,” said Gaete. “Whittier is already overcrowded and would cost over $300,000 to demolish the field house, funds that can go towards creating more programs.” WPC members met again Wednesday afternoon to figure out their next steps to preserve La Casita.

If you would like to learn more about WPC, visit www.saveourcenter.com.

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